Vanderbilt got the best of both Louisville and Illinois State – two teams it will face at this weekend’s NCAA baseball regional – during the regular season.
When it did, though, neither opponent was at its best. Each team was without a key hitter who will be available this weekend.
“Right now, we’re going to play a team – like everyone of the 64 – that feels good about themselves,” Commodores’ coach Tim Corbin said.
VU will open the Louisville Regional against Illinois State, 1 p.m. Friday.
The Commodores defeated the Redbirds 9-2 back on March 6. Starting pitcher Taylor Hill and reliever Will Clinard did not have to deal that day with second baseman Kevin Tokarski, the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year.
Tokarski batted .429 in 50 games of the regular season and scored 67 runs, which was at least 27 more than any of his teammates. He also led the Redbirds in walks (50), doubles (25), RBIs (49) and stolen bases (33).
“I will go back to our notes of what we did against them the last time, but he was out of the lineup, and he hits in the No. 1 or No. 2 hole,” Corbin said.
Illinois State’s first two batters were a combined 1-for-8 with a strikeout against Vanderbilt. That defeat was the second of season-long five-game losing streak for ISU, which won 10 of its last 14 heading into the regional.
“We played them without their best player,” Corbin said. “They played well through the year. They got progressively better as the year went on.”
Vanderbilt’s final non-conference contest was an 11-10 victory in 17 innings over Louisville on May 11. It was the Commodores’ 15 victory in 18 all-time games against Louisville and the fourth in five meetings over the last three years.
“They were without one of their best players too in Ryan Wright,” Corbin said. “They have a lot of power in their lineup – 1-9 they can all hit real well.”
Wright, a sophomore infielder, was one of four Louisville players who earned first-team All-Big East honors. He hit .366 and had a team-high 77 RBIs in 57 games. He also struck out less than one time for every 10 at-bats.
If Vanderbilt defeats Illinois State on Friday, its most likely opponent on Saturday will be Louisville. In each case, those teams will present a slightly different challenge than they did the first time.
“I think in some cases, it’s OK to know you’re opponent,” Corbin said. “There’s nothing wrong with it, and they know us.”
• Louisville coach Dan McDonnell was suspended for three games under NCAA rules because of his behavior wile arguing a call during a Big East tournament game.
The ruling means he will miss most, if not all of this weekend’s regional.
“That’s too bad,” Corbin said. “He talked to me on Sunday and explained to me what happened. That’s just very frustrating for a coach. I’ve been there and done that, but not (to be suspended) for three games. I can only imagine how that would be for three games.
“… He will do a great job, I’m sure, preparing his team outside of the game, and I’m sure the players will try to win that thing for him and use it as a source of motivation.”